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A long shot at glory

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Tom Fordyce | 11:56 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The big story at the start of these Commonwealths was all about the athletes who didn't want to come to Delhi. So, as the Games draw to an end, I thought I'd track down a couple who couldn't have done more to get here.

Meet Carlos and Rico Yon, two shooters from St Helena. If you're wondering where St Helena is, you're not alone. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world, a droplet of cartographer's ink in the vast empty spaces of the southern Atlantic Ocean.

The nearest large land mass is 1200 miles away, the nearest inhabited island the volcanic bump of Ascension, 810 miles to the north-west. The next nearest neighbours - all 300 of them - are on Tristan da Cunha, 1510 miles to the south.

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There are just over 4000 people on St Helena. And there is currently no airstrip, meaning that getting anywhere else - let alone India - takes a very, very long time indeed.

"It took us 33 days," says 44-year-old Carlos, without a hint of frustration. "Our only link to the outside world is a boat called RMS St Helena. We set off for Cape Town on 26 August."

I ask 18-year-old Rico how often the boat stops by. "Pretty often," he tells me shyly. "About once every six weeks."

The four-man team - from the smallest of all 71 nations at these Games - spent five days at sea on the first leg of their journey. Had the trade winds not been so kind, it could have been a lot longer.

"The RMS is very nice - it's not very big, but they have skittles, and cricket on deck, and bingo," says Carlos, his accent a curious mix of South African, Polynesian and American.

"We had a pretty good time on the ship. We played a lot of cards. Cards is a very important game in St Helena - there's a game called Yuka that's played by six people - so there was a lot of banging on tables."

So long did it take the team to travel to India that all four have celebrated birthdays since leaving the island's capital Jamestown.

"Two of us had birthdays at sea," says Carlos. "The captain was real kind and made two cakes, and gave us cards."

St Helena, it goes without saying, has a rather different vibe to Delhi, and this is only the second time Rico has left the island. The other time was to go to Ascension, population: 1,000.

So what's it like coming from a volcanic rock measuring roughly 10 by five miles to a teeming, frantic city of 17 million people?

"Everything is more chill-out at home," he says with magnificent understatement. "Here it's all so fast. People move around you so fast."

We are standing in the relative haven of Pragati Maidan, a series of tree-lined squares in the comparative peace of New Delhi. Carlos looks around with a beautifully bemused expression on his face.

"This place is really hectic," he says, as honks from passing tuk-tuks and taxis fill the air. "I find it very busy compared to St Helena. The speed limit at home is 30 miles an hour maximum, and we don't have cars like here. So when you're talking about noise - there's so much of it here."

He shakes his head. "I'm feeling a little worn down. Most days I've had a headache and needed to take a nap. My heart-rate has increased a bit, and I'm having problems controlling the rifle. Normally it will just stay where I've put it, but here it keeps bouncing around."

If it sounds a little reminiscent of the tale of town mouse and country mouse, do not think for a moment that the chaps would have wanted to be anywhere else this past two weeks.

"It's an honour to be here," Carlos says emphatically. "Just taking part in an event of this scale - it's an honour for me to represent St Helena here.

"We're not allowed to compete at the Olympics. This is as high as we can ever go. Apart from the Island Games and the Commonwealth Games, we don't get to take part in any other competitions. We are so isolated that the only competition we have is between the two rival clubs on the island."

India's Gagan Narang signs autographs

Commonwealth success has made national heroes of shooters such as India's Gagan Narang (pictured) and Scotland's John Hammond. Photo: AFP

The team, all shooters, can only wonder at the resources at the disposal of their rivals. Rico has never before seen a 50 metre firing range, let alone practised on one, while Carlos used one for the first time only last year. There are no coaches on the island, and not many guns. Carlos, a keen amateur for years, finally got a rifle of his own last year. It was a second-hand one.

"It was difficult to practise on the way over too. Guns are prohibited on the RMS. They used to have some clay pigeon shooting on deck at one time, but not any more.

"We would like to take a gold medal home with us. But under the circumstances you have to face reality. We will take part, enjoy ourselves and make sure we have good time with everyone."

Enjoy themselves they do. The day after we meet, Carlos and Rico compete in the 50m pairs prone rifle. They finish 18th out of 19. That only the pair from Antigua and Barbuda are behind them does little to diminish their obvious pride.

"If Rico had proper training and a coach from the UK, he would be in good shape by the time the next Games come round. Unfortunately we don't have the sort of money for that.

"Fortunately for us this time, Delhi came up with the money to send us to these Commonwealth Games. Even for the Island Games we struggle to raise enough money to send a team."

St Helena's most famous inhabitant was Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled there by the British with the knowledge that a rescue attempt would only have been slightly harder if he had been imprisoned on the moon.

Rico, out in the wide world for the first time, is enjoying his own tiny window of wider fame.

"There aren't many kids my age at home - maybe 100. But they say they'll be watching out for me on satellite TV."

"He's a celebrity now" says Carlos admiringly, "because he's getting bombarded on Facebook by his friends and people back home."

What will they take back with them from Delhi? Carlos fingers the many badges of national flags and team emblems pinned to the lanyard around his neck

"It has been wonderful to meet so many people from so many different countries. And I will never forget what we have seen here. It's been very, very hot, so I'll remember that also."

There is another chorus of frantic beeps from the road running past the Maidan.

"Also, I want to take a tuk-tuk home. It's incredible how many people they can get in those things. That is an amazing little vehicle."


  • Comment number 1.

    This is why the Commonwealth Games does still matter.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is what the BBC is all about, brilliant

  • Comment number 3.

    Ah, Refreshing article. Always nice to hear from and hear about participants from lesser known countries. Hope Rico and Carlos and others from St. Helena win medals in the future editions of the CWG!

  • Comment number 4.

    fantastic read and a brilliant story!

  • Comment number 5.

    OMG what an awesome story. Good on them...

  • Comment number 6.

    Wow, while it is good to hear the stories of athletes winning multiple medals, it is stories like these which make us appreciate the importance of these games. Brilliant article as usual Tom.

  • Comment number 7.

    when ever i hear some bozos in the streets of Toronto talk about the usefulness of CWG i cringe. i wish i can send this to open their minds...

  • Comment number 8.

    Brilliant story!!! This is what these games are all about. The friendly games, getting an opputunity, meeting people , competing at better than best spirits . Well off course do good for your career and your country . Well done St. Helena and well done CWG for giving an oppurtunity to so many like them . Let people learn from these guys that , you need to grab an oppurtunity when you get one , not moan and give excuses and give into pressure, that is not true sportsmanship . I am not sure how medals you have won, but Tom with this story am sure has put you ahead of any gold medal winners for true spirt of sportsmanship.

  • Comment number 9.

    Brilliant story... reminds me of the wonderful day I spent in Manchester watching the 2002 triathlon... there were good cheers for the winners, but the noise that was generated when the athletes from the Cook Islands and Kiribati went past on each lap was deafening...

    Ever since then I have been a fan of this event, and I love stories like this...

  • Comment number 10.

    Great story. These are the people that make the Commonwealth Games so special!

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Absolutely fantastic article, I know I am repeating what has already been said, but it is so refreshing. This actually represents the true art of "Journalism". Detailed research and an original story.

    St Helena (and Ascension and Tristan da Cunha) are all fascinating, they seem like the type of islands where "Lost" could be filmed. I hate to be picky, but according to your link, the British Virgin Islands are actually the smallest team, with just two participants!

    A pleasure to read.

  • Comment number 13.

    Phillips Idowu is the man.

  • Comment number 14.

    why cant they compete in the olympics does anyone know?

  • Comment number 15.

    A lovely article Tom. Thanks!

  • Comment number 16.

    That's the spirit Tom! Lovely story! Keep them coming :o)

  • Comment number 17.

    Great one!!!

  • Comment number 18.

    i had the privilage of visiting St Helena earlier this year, i actually spoke to people about competing in Commonwealth games, they had a very good tennis player who was hopeful of being allowed to go, obviously he was not able. St Helena is an amazing place, the the people are so sparkly. i dont know why they cannot compete in Olympics, but maybe one day. i know it sounf selfish but i hope that an airstrip is turned down, personally i think it would spoil the island and the people.

    i was on a world cruise and the Queen Mary stopped off, we doubled the island population for a day

  • Comment number 19.

    I have also had the privilege of visiting this amazing island about 10 years ago when I was a teenager.
    I stayed there for 2 weeks and the island is amazing and is incredibly remote, all the cars and facilities are about 10 years behind the uk, but they don't seem to mind. There is one pub and one shop in the one little town. There was also only one jail cell as well with the crime rate about 0.

    This blog is amazing and really took me back to when I was there, good luck to the athletes in the games.
    On another point I hope the island gets their airstrip, although it would change the island, I know it's what the st helenians want.

  • Comment number 20.

    Dear Tom, Sorry to be critical but if you are doing a piece on the St Helenian competitors the least you could do is listen to them enough to get their name correct. They are Carlos and Rico YON not YUN.

  • Comment number 21.

    I was watching some interviews with atheletes , all of them are basically saying "Delhi CWG is the best so far"...BBC should show atheletes villas , what the atheletes eat and where, their training camps etc...rather than showing images of slums in sports blog (which makes no sense for which Tom was snubbed by many viewers in one of the earlier posts).

  • Comment number 22.

    I think after the mega success of CWG in Delhi, India should bid for Olympics. Olympics should be held in exciting places like India rather a boring place like England.

  • Comment number 23.

    I believe the reason they cannot compete in the Olympics is that the legal status of St Helena is a dependency of the UK and the IOC therefore do not recognise them as "a country".

  • Comment number 24.

    Sammy, grow up. I have looked at your last bunch of posts and every one is either criticising England or eulogising over India.
    Not one post of yours has been factual or balanced.

    Please do both Indians (who I am sure are ashamed by you) and English ( who find your chip on the shoulder comments tedious) a favour and either stop posting or grow up.

  • Comment number 25.

    Geejaytee, that's correct . Remember England Scotland etc also can t compete in the Olympics!

  • Comment number 26.

    anyway the powers that be might allow St Helens islanders compete at the Olympics if be it under the auspices of GB? This what the friendly games are all about bring people from around the world, all be it former parts of the empire for the most part and sharing a bond of sport. great as it is to win medals but the shear joy of representing your country and making new friends is just if not more important. Good on you for an excellent postive piece!

    Sammy yes dehli has been a success of some sort despite some negative reporting unfortunately it is not quite ready for the Olympics as whilst I think some members of the british media have been snobby just imagine the yanks and the french!!! it would be crippling. I hope that India do get the olympics probably in 4 cycles time. London 2012 will different as Bejing and Brazil will be in 2016. whilst some have scoffed at Dehli remember Atlanta was not such a hot success I think it was summed by the fact Juan S did not say these have been the best games ever in his closing speech.

  • Comment number 27.

    The airport is going ahead because at the end of the day the Islanders wanted it because they are fed up being cut off from the rest of the world. The Governor Sir Andrew Gurr announced a few weeks ago that the British Government had given it's approval after MANY years of argument and debate. St Helena is one of about 8-9 'Colonies' left, with some of the others being Gibraltar, Turks & Caicos, Montserrat, Bermuda, Falklands, British Virgin Islands and they all strive to send competitors to the Commonwealth Games. The rapport between athletes is fantastic and makes it all worthwhile. St. Helenians are not allowed to join the British Forces and many do.
    The OIC has a ruling which says that these 'colonies' must enter their prospective Olympic athletes through their parent country (Great Britian) and of course they have little hope of being selected. It is all political because Gibraltar and the Falklands campainged for years to get in but Samarach was the OIC President, at the time, and he could not allow Gibraltar in because it would have virtually nullified Spain's claim to Gibraltar (they would have lynched him in Madrid), so he dreamnt up this ruling about selection through the Britain. However there is a flaw because Bermuda, for example, were allowed into the Olympics before Samarach thought up the ruling. So much for democracy in the 'wonderful' Olympics!

  • Comment number 28.

    My submission above should have read...'St. Helenians are allowed to join the British Forces...... I inadvertantly inserted the word 'not' by mistake. Sorry.

  • Comment number 29.

    Nice article Tom. This is what the Commonwealth Games are all about, not neccessarily winning but just being there and competing. Now what about a piece about those 2 lovely little badminton girls from the Falklands who look about 14 years old, who I saw briefly on TV last week, when they played against England. They managed to get a few points between them and smiled all the way through. They have come a very long way as well.

  • Comment number 30.

    Thankyou for the article Tom, a great read

  • Comment number 31.

    nice article Tom. Journalism at its best!

  • Comment number 32.

  • Comment number 33.

    @ 25: Great Britain isn't a nation either, but as long as the Irish are all happy to compete as one team that's fine by me, though I'd love to see us all join forces as a British Isles squad :o)

  • Comment number 34.

    Fascinating article which makes one appreciate the unique character and diversity of the CWG

    27 James Autar
    Thanks for that information .. I've wondered why for eg Gibralter enters the IAAF world champs and not the Olympics and also why it doesn't field a national football team like say Faroe Islands ( although in the case of football the same could be said of the three "British Isles "(?) minnows )

    For all those India Olympics boosters.. where do they think they'll get their IOC members votes they think IOC members from Commonwealth countries ...who will be well aware of the pros and cons of these CWGs..will support an Indian bid ?

  • Comment number 35.

    Hello all - glad you enjoyed the two. Two extremely nice chaps, Carlos and Rico. 3Lions_RJ - just to clarify the 'smallest team' line, they're the team from the smallest nation. I should have made that clearer.

  • Comment number 36.

    I salute the duo for their enthusiasm for sport.

  • Comment number 37.

    Here is a sample of the biased coverage:

    First read what Fennel says

    BBC Sport's Martin Gough
    DELHI ORGANISING CHIEF SPEAKS "Games chief Mike Fennell is asked a question on a major theme over the last few days: Do you blame the media for exposing problems or do you think they helped? 'Both,' replies the Jamaican. 'I felt some of the trivia received more attention that it should, but it was important to expose some of the fundamental issues and it helped. When these were exposed in the media, this helped us to get action going in certain areas, and I say that very sincerely. But I would be less than frank if I said some of the minor reports did not help because the public does not understand the dynamics of organisation.'"

    and then ..from some Anon..the SMS..the bottom of that is a message exorting folks to get SMSes in for their -ve experiences.

    Hopeless,this is not reporting.Its a slander campaign
    Via SMS From Anon: "Mike Fennell has clearly not been an average spectator at CWG! Conditions have been dreadful for some sports such as rugby - no shade provided, no drinks, no suncream allowed in venue from 9-6! Security has not been firm but fair, it has been draconian! Basic human needs have not been met. All the correspondents have press passes which allows them water. What do you think it’s like with none and no shade?"

    Has anyone else experienced something similar in Delhi? Or the complete opposite? Text me your views on 81111 (UK) or +44 7786200666 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +44 7786200666 end_of_the_skype_highlighting (worldwide) - messages will be charged at your standard operator rate.

  • Comment number 38.

    Whoops Tom - we seem to be spending much of our time correcting you. The Falklands is the smallest nation in terms of population size with the latest cenus showing 2,900 people which is just over thousand short of St. Helena's 4,000.
    It is also much farther away from India than St Helena although there is an airport there so their athletes took less time to get to Delhi than the St Helenians.

  • Comment number 39.

    St. Helena DO compete at the olympics as part of the GB team. Their athletes are eligable to participate just like those of England, Wales, Scotland, N.Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, IOM, Gibralter etc.

    These two would not make that squad due to not being at the required level, in fact even if St. Helena had a seperate team they would still not compete as it would be extremely unlikley that they would be good enough to secure any of the places available (In shooting you have to win other competitions to give your nation competitor slots). Even the GB team only managed to obtain a single slot last time around in their event.

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks James - seems I'll have to get myself a new stats book for next time..

  • Comment number 41.

    Hi hackerjack - I've explored this fully. The St. Helenians, Falkland Islanders etc. would have to join a running club in Britain, for example, if they wished to even stand a chance of competing in the Olympics. Then they would have to be selected by their club for trials and from there onto the AAA Championships and whatever further selction process is required. It's virtually an impossible task as the 'Colonialist' would have to move to live in Britain. That is why the OIC's ruling is politically unacceptable. The athletes from these Countries should be able to compete in the Olympics as of their own right but Samarach ensured that they can't. Theoretically they should throw Bermuda out as they fall into the category above, but hopefully they will not, having been accepted into the Olympic movement before Samarach brought politics into sport.
    But I can assure you that the St. Helenians do NOT compete at the Olympics as part of the British team, as you have suggested.

  • Comment number 42.

    Hi hackerjack - I've explored this fully. The St. Helenians, Falkland Islanders etc. would have to join a running club in Britain, for example, if they wished to even stand a chance of competing in the Olympics.
    Entirely dependent on the sport James. In shooting for instance where these chaps compete there is no restriction on having to join a club in order to compete in the trials.

    Also those that do require club selection are open in most cases to clubs from the dependencies, clubs on the IOM and CHannel sles do send athletes in numerous sports to GB selection.

    St. Helenans may not compete as you say, but there is nothing saying that they can not if they choose to do so in the majority of sports.

    Also I didn't say the process was fair particularly, nor support it, but it's the IOC's ruling and was put in place in order to prevent people from claiming to represent unnoficial nations and causing politial issues. How would Russia respond to Chechnians entering etc. Personally I think that a nation should be allowed to compete under their own flag provided the nation they are dependent on agrees, which the UK would of course do.

  • Comment number 43.


    Even on a positive blog, you can't help but be the only person to go all negative. Why don't you just clear off and let others enjoy themselves for once?

  • Comment number 44.

    suresh kalmadi should be shifted there asap so that india can organise the olympics without corruption. all said and done he should be given some credit...i think. i will forgive him for now.
    btw how the hell did GB get there in the first instance!!! amazing

  • Comment number 45.

    ps ..Carlos and Rico are true champions and a good gesture by india to get them to these games.well done. really inspiring

  • Comment number 46.

    Great story Tom, thanks for sharing it with us. Well done boys, and enjoy your long journey home. I've never played Yuka with six hands, 500 is another good one that can keep you up all night. I bet you can't wait to see that little island on the horizon.


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